Hard-hitting Lackawanna College safety Ja’yir Brown plans to head to Penn State next season. JAKE DANNA STEVENS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Lackawanna College logoLackawanna College wasn’t always a recruiting hotbed for Penn State. For decades under legendary head coach Mark Duda, the Falcons would send their star players to places like Oklahoma and West Virginia. Their most famous player ever, tackle Bryant McKinnie, went to Miami, but only after Duda urged Penn State to take a chance only to be told that the 6-foot-8 future Outland Trophy winner was “too tall” for Joe Paterno’s liking.

That has changed in recent years, of course. Bill O’Brien tried, but ultimately failed, to get tackle Jermaine Eluemunor to go from Scranton to State College, and James Franklin’s teams have brought on several former Falcons to bolster the roster — including tackle Paris Palmer, defensive tackle Brenon Thrift and three current Nittany Lions — safety Jaquan Brisker, guard Anthony Whigan and punter Bradley King.

There are also two current Lackawanna Standouts — receiver Norval Black and safety Ja’yir Brown — committed to the 2020 recruiting class.

“From their experience, they’re seeing our players who are up there now, and how they’re performing,” Brown said. “And, they’re performing at that next level just as well as they’re performing here. Now, they’re coming back and getting more players just as great as the palyers they have now.”

Brown is a big-hitting safety with a nose for the football who expects to be an immediate contributor with the Nittany Lions. Recently, I talked with him about his commitment to Penn State and what makes him one of the best safety prospects in the junior college ranks.

“(Brown), the kid who is going to Penn State, is probably the best (juco) safety in the country. I think he will play immediately there.” — Lackawanna head coach Mark Duda

Q: How do you improve on last year’s 11-0 record, and what role do you play in that as a leader?
JB: You take on what you had last year, and you build on it. From my experience last year, I know what it’s like, I know what it is, I know what we need to do as a team to get where we were last year and to be even better than we were last year. I know what it takes. So, I took what I learned from last year and motivated these guys with the knowledge I gained from Jaquan Brisker, Savion Williams (currently a starting defensive tackle at Tennessee) and Andre Blackett (currently a linebacker at Rhode Island). I tried to install it in these guys’ heads that we need that drive and determination, and we’ll be just as successful as we were last year this year.

Q: How would you describe your style at safety?
JB: I’m a ballhawk. I have a sense for the ball. And my playmaking skills. I’m a very smart player on the field, and I know how to break down an offense. I know how to read the read quarterbacks. My hip mobility is great. I can also stick my nose in the box and make plays.

Q: Jaquan was so dominant last year – how often do you see a defensive back lead the team in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss – and Penn State really likes him. What did you learn from him?
JB: Jaquan is a very hard worker. I had never met anybody like him until I got here in my freshman year. It was like, I knew he was the guy. Coach Duda was telling me about him, but I wanted to see it for myself. Just his determination and his will and the pride he played with allows him to perform at that level.

The Ja’yir Brown Line















*Through two games

Q: Last year, you’re looking for a big-time offer. This year, you have it and you’re committed to Penn State. With that settled, is there a different feeling for you this year as opposed to 2018?
JB: Not really. I went into this season the same way I went into last season, thinking I had something to prove. I can play on the big stage. Even though I got to the big stage now, I’m going to prove that I belong there. When I get there right now, I’m going to show everybody that I belong at Penn State. They just weren’t recruiting me to recruit me. I am that guy everyone talks about.

Q: Why Penn State? When you got that offer, what was the difference there?
JB: The belief. The coaches believed in me. They were giving me all the talk and all the knowledge about their program, and I fell in love with the program from there. It’s a great facility, a great coaching staff and we really bonded from the start. Everything fell into place, and I felt like that would be home to me.

Q: How much did you follow Penn State growing up in Jersey? Were they a big deal to you?
A: Not really. For us guys from Jersey, Rutgers was the big school. We didn’t hear too much about Penn State at all until probably my sophomore year of high school. Then the whole Saquon Barkley thing happened and Penn State really blew up. At that point, I was like, “Penn State might be a school I want to consider.” When I got here, they were actually one of the first schools that reached out to me.

Q: Safeties coach Tim Banks has a really good streak going, where he’s putting starters in the NFL. That’s just the way it has been over the last few years. How much do you take that into account, and what does it mean to you when you look at the development of guys like Marcus Allen, Troy Apke and Nick Scott?
JB: Coach Banks, he’s a great guy. I love Coach Banks. We have a great connection. He’s a realist, as I like to say. He’ll tell you what it is and how it’s going to go. As long as you believe in him and what he’s doing, you will make it to that next level, no doubt about it. But that’s the guy for Penn State. Great safeties coach, and Terry Smith is right there alongside of him. You have nothing to worry about with them. As long as you’re there doing the work, those coaches will get you to where you want to go.